Speaker Cable Buying Guide

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Speaker Cable Buying Guide

Considering what a simple-seeming accessory speaker cables are, it is unbelievable how many types and brands of speaker cable are on the market. It is true that speaker cables make a big difference to how speakers sound, and when the speakers are of high quality, it is only natural to want the best cables. However, finding high quality speaker cables is easier than it might seem, and has less to do with name brands and cost than one might think.

Many audiophiles who want to test out different types of oxygen-free copper wires, and those who are happy with lamp cord of the correct thickness, will find speaker cables anywhere audio equipment is sold as well as online. In order to find cables that will allow the speakers to sound their best, a shopper has to know about speaker cable specifications like conductor area, as well as considerations about cable length and shielding, among other things. A section on finding speaker cables online is also important to review before making an informed purchasing decision.

Speaker Cable Specifications

While the most important aspects of a speaker cable are its thickness and the length that will be used, manufacturers often provide a number of other specifications as well. Some are useful, while others are simply meant to add hype to what is a fairly simple product. A shopper should understand specifications when shopping for speaker cables in order to differentiate between the useful information and the hype.

Conductor Type

The type of conducting material used, whether it is copper, silver, or a mix of metals, would seem to be an extremely important specification. In reality, however, practically all of the materials used for speaker wires work just as well as long as the wire is thick enough for the length of cable that will be needed. Copper is the most conductive of all cable materials, and various types of oxygen-free copper exist. These are supposed to decrease resistance and increase conductivity, but for the distances common in domestic applications, there is practically no difference between the various types. Common conductors include plain copper, copper-clad aluminium, and silver.          

Conductor Area

The area of the conducting material in a cross-section of the cable is a very important specification. This gives the thickness of the wire, which along with the length, determines the resistance in the wire. The main rule of thumb when choosing speaker cables is that the resistance in the wire should be less than 5 per cent of the speaker's impedance. The table below gives the resistance per metre of copper wire at different thicknesses. The thickness is measured in square millimetres when the wire is made up of strands. When buying solid wire, the thickness is given in terms of millimetres of diameter. Also given in the table is the AWG (American Wire Gauge) number for each thickness, since it is used by some manufacturers and sellers.

AWG

Conductor Diameter for solid wires (mm)

Conductor Thickness for stranded wires (sq. mm)

Resistance (milliohms/metre)

5

4.621

16.8

1.028

8

3.264

8.37

2.061

10

2.588

5.26

3.277

12

2.053

3.31

5.211

14

1.628

2.08

8.286

16

1.291

1.31

13.17

18

1.024

.823

20.95

 

As the table shows, the thicker the wire, the lower the resistance. To figure out what cable thickness will be necessary for a given speaker and cable length, first calculate 5 per cent of the speaker's impedance. Then, divide by the length the cable will have to run in metres. Multiply by 1000 to find the allowable resistance. Note that the figures above are for copper wire. Other materials may have a slightly higher resistance, but not enough to drastically change the necessary thickness. When in doubt between two cables, choose the thicker one.

Strand Number and Individual Strand Diameter

Some manufacturers and sellers give a strand number instead of a cross-sectional area. Obviously, a high strand number means nothing unless the diameter of each strand in millimetres is also given. When both of these specifications are given, simply multiply them together to find the cross-sectional area in square millimetres.

Cable Size or Overall Cable Dimensions

These specifications basically give the thickness of the insulation around the wire conductor. The insulating material is generally some kind of plastic, such as PVC. It has no effect on the quality of the signal, despite what manufacturers might advertise. The only factor to consider with the insulation, is whether it will stay flexible with time and protect the wire, as well as how it will look once installed.

Polarity Indicator

Any worthwhile speaker cable will have one wire marked differently for the purposes of indicating the polarity. Most commonly, a red and black wire is used, with the red wire used for the positive terminal. Other markings may include plus signs printed on one of the wires or a blue stripe. It does not matter which wire is used for the positive terminal, as long as the same one is used consistently in the entire system.

Considerations When Choosing Speaker Cables

Just as manufacturers tout pure oxygen-free copper as the best conductor, they also add extra features to speaker cables in order to raise the price of the cables. Each one of these special features creates a decision for the consumer regarding the shielding, or the type of wirings and special connectors Some features can come in handy while others are a waste of money for most people. A wise shopper will learn about these features beforehand to avoid wasting time and money in the shopping process.

Solid vs. Strand

As mentioned above, solid wires are sometimes inconvenient to install, especially with moveable equipment. However, it may be ideal when a system will be permanently installed with the cables running inside walls or behind mouldings. Stranded wire is more common since most home speakers are small and moveable. There is no difference in conductivity between the two types.

Single Wire or Bi-Wire Cables

Many speakers have two sets of binding posts where cables are connected. Bi-wiring means that each set of binding posts is connected to the amplifier or receiver, and the links between the binding posts are removed. This provides a cleaner sound because the amplifier is better able to cancel the distortion that can occur in the outputs. Special bi-wire cable is available at a price, but regular two-core speaker cables can also be used. Just double the length that will be needed. The advantage of bi-wire cable is mainly aesthetic since all four cores are kept together in a single cable.

Shielding

Shielded cables have a thin conductive layer around the insulated cores, covered by another layer of insulation. This is designed to prevent interference in the signal from other electronic devices around the speakers. However, the signal carried by speaker cables is so much stronger than the electromagnetic interference from other devices in a domestic setting, that this feature is practically never actually needed. Shielding is much more important in professional audio applications.

Speaker Cable Length

To measure the length of cable that will be necessary, run a string from the amplifier or receiver to the location of each of the speakers. It is best if the length of the wire is the same for the front speakers so that they are equally loud. Similarly, it is best if the rear speakers also have the same length of wire. Note that this does not mean they have to be positioned equally far; it just means the resistance in the wire is roughly the same. If turning a corner is necessary, allow for enough cable to make a gentle turn. Pinched or bent cables do not conduct signals well. If the cable will run inside walls or under floorboards, a professional will be able to calculate the length needed. Cables that will run inside walls should have a LSOH or LSZH (Low Smoke Zero Halogen) rating to minimise fire hazards.                 

Connector Types for Speaker Cables

Speakers with 5-way binding posts will accept cables with banana plugs, spade lugs, connector pins, or bare wire. Bare wire can fray and cause a short circuit, making one of the other terminations preferable. However, terminations can always be bought separately and installed on bare wire cables, often at a lower cost than buying cable with terminations. The other advantage is being able to cut custom cable lengths.

Gold-Plated Speaker Cables

Some manufacturers tout gold-plated connectors as improving conductivity. These have very little effect in consumer equipment, and are generally only made to increase the price of the cables. Also, if gold-plated connectors are connected to a terminal without gold-plating, galvanic corrosion is possible over time.

How to Buy Speaker Cables on eBay

Finding the speaker cables you need is easy using eBay. Not only does eBay have a wide selection of cables to choose from, it also has search options that make it fast and easy to find the cables you need. Many people also appreciate eBay's public feedback system which rewards good sellers and makes it easy to find a reputable seller online.

Searching Speaker Cables on eBay

To find speaker cables on eBay, simply enter the search term 'speaker cables' in the search box on any eBay page. You will then be shown a listing of all the speaker cables available. Narrow down the search by using the subcategories and the search criteria provided. These search criteria include type, brand, condition, connectors, cable length, and more. Once you find a listing you are interested in, be sure to check the seller's feedback score. Choosing one of eBay's many top-rated sellers ensures that you only do business with sellers who have a history of excellent customer service and fast shipping times. These sellers have an award icon next to their names or on the listings as they appear in a search. Also be sure to check the return policy and shipping rates.

Conclusion

Speaker cables can make a big difference to the sound quality of a set of speakers. When the speakers are high quality, it makes sense to make sure the cables are capable of relaying the signal in all its strength, to ensure that one can enjoy the sounds of the speakers. On one hand, finding good speaker cables is difficult because there are so many options in a wide range of prices. On the other hand, it is simpler than one might think because many special features which make a cable more expensive actually have no effect in a domestic setting.

The most important specifications to keep in mind are the thickness of the cable and the length needed. These two specifications, along with the conducting material, determine the resistance of the cable which should be less than 5 per cent of the speaker's impedance. Other specifications like the type of insulation and the shielding, are important to understand, but do not make much of a difference to sound quality. Experienced audiophiles as well as those setting up a simple HiFi system at home can easily find the right cables on eBay.

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